supporting independent enquiry

evaluating the use of whole-school approach to supporting child-led, enquiry-based science lessons

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This project sought to evaluate the use of pupil-led, independent science enquiry projects as a tool to develop Y5/6 pupils’ scientific literacy, creative thinking skills and engagement in science.

Through the delivery of whole staff CPD activities and the implementation of a research protocol, this project evaluated how primary teachers can best be supported to facilitate the development of these projects. This required teachers to transfer responsibility for decision-making to children during open-ended investigations and to review the quality of questioning necessary to elicit children’s creative thinking. Through the development of their own independent science projects Y5/6 pupils had opportunities to share their ideas, experiment and design ways to collect evidence to validate their scientific hypotheses.

AIMS & OBJECTIVES

For teachers:

  • To develop a whole school approach to child-led, inquiry-based science education.
  • To enable participating teachers to co-construct professional knowledge through the development of collaborative practices.
  • To enable teachers to critically reflect on the growth of their professional identities as primary science teachers as they further develop their subject matter knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge bases.
  • To develop pupils’ understanding of the critical role of evidence in validating the assumptions and conclusions generated from scientific inquiries by drawing parallels between the work of scientists and professions who actively engage in the collection, analysis, interpretation and evaluation of evidence to inform decision-making.

For pupils:

  • To engage with exciting scientific phenomena as real scientists.
  • To ask questions, generate hypotheses and test these ideas using experiments.
  • To appreciate the role of evidence – its quality and reliability - in enabling scientists to successfully support and challenge hypotheses, through enquiries.
  • To plan empirical ways to collect, analyse and interpret evidence.
  • To use evidence to support and challenge conclusions.
  • To engage in their own scientific inquiries drawing on the development of skills above.
  • To prepare an exhibition of projects using a variety of presentation strategies including role-play.

PROJECT DETAILS

Project Lead: Debbie Myers (PSTT College Fellow), Durham University

The project was centred on one school – Hudson Road Primary School – which serves a diverse inner city area within the city of Sunderland. Most of the children come from an area of great social and economic disadvantage with a number of very marginalised community groups. Two groups of teachers were involved – ten class teachers from Early Years Foundation Stage, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 and teachers from three classes of Year 5/6 pupils.

Through the delivery of two half days of whole staff CPD training and the implementation of a research protocol, the project evaluated how primary teachers could best be supported to facilitate the development of enquiry as a way of knowing. At the beginning of the first session staff were asked to consider how child-led inquiry approaches could be used to support the development of the three types of knowledge linked with learners’ scientific understanding:

  • Content knowledge (concepts and ideas of science),
  • Procedural knowledge (procedures and strategies of inquiry)
  • Epistemic knowledge (evaluating and validating scientific evidence; deciding how to investigate questions)

Three models of teaching were used – dialogic, experiential and collaborative; placing staff in the role of teacher-as-learner to distinguish between these three types of knowledge in order to understand how the role of personal learning experiences, in an area of deficit subject knowledge could contribute to the identification of key ideas and teaching strategies.

Using children’s literature as the initial stimulus to contextualise enquiry-based learning they identified broad categories of investigations – exploring phenomena, identification and classification, observing changes over time, pattern-seeking, fair-testing, problem-solving, research and synthesis. After practical work teachers referred back to their collaborative concept map and began to distinguish between subject knowledge/concepts; procedural knowledge and epistemic knowledge. It was at this point that awareness was raised about what constituted true inquiry from a child’s point of view: opportunities to raise questions, to take responsibility to make decisions about data collection methods. Through these modelled, experiential, collaborative and dialogic pedagogies, teachers were placed in a more informed position in which to debate and understand the use of terms enquiry and working scientifically.

In order to facilitate child-led investigations and creative problem-solving agreement was reached that they would encourage pupils to engage with scientific phenomena to facilitate the generation of questions. They would then transfer responsibility for decision making to pupils regarding how to go about answering these questions: which approaches to use, how to collect data and how to present finding to other groups.

OUTCOMES

There were number of outcomes for the teachers involved and for their pupils:

  • The project enabled teachers to focus strategically on giving children responsibility for decision-making; deciding upon the questions to be investigated and the lines of inquiry to be followed.
  • Teachers reported that children demonstrated a greater understanding of the need for hard evidence to prove/disprove hypotheses and the need to repeat tests to be sure they can justify their views. They now realise vague answers are not acceptable they have to prove it.
  • Children have devised experiments in small groups and learned to negotiate, share, build on and challenge each other’s ideas;Science activities have been better linked to and contextualised in real-life – topics, science discovery centres and historical museums,
  • Children generated some excellent questions and they are now using scientific language with greater understanding.

MEDIA

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Pupils Questions Hudson Road Primary [33.66kB]

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Professions Using Evidence [101.83kB]

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Professions Using Evidence Spies [462.70kB]

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Science Inquiry Wordle Hudson Road Y5 6 Pupils [111.63kB]

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Hudson Road Primary Conference poster 2013 [798.20kB]

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Hudson Road Professions using evidence [1.60MB]

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Science Projects Exhibition Hudson Road Primary School July 2014 [8.39MB]

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Hudson Road Pupil analysis of drawing task 2 Professions using evidence [12.21MB]

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Science Projects Exhibition Hudson Road Primary School [8.39MB]

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Hudson Road Drawing Tasks [12.82MB]

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CONTACT

Find out more about this project by completing the form below and a member of the Primary Science Teaching Trust team will get back to you.

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